California Unions Scramble as Local Voters Poised to Rein-in Public Pensions

seek times; font-size: 16px;”>By Chriss W. Street

pension.shackleAfter the Ventura County Board of Supervisors on June 10 voted 4 to 1 to put a popular initiative to eliminate public employee defined-benefit pensions on the ballot, a coalition of public employee unions filed suit to prevent the initiative from going to a vote of the people in November. If the courts rule in favor of the 40,500 petition signers, Ventura County could save $460 million and spark a statewide taxpayer assault against California’s $450 billion in unfunded public employee defined benefit pension obligations.

The Ventura County Taxpayers Association (VCTA) in February of 2014 obtained a “comprehensive independent analysis” regarding a proposed pension reform initiative that would convert public employee retirement from a guaranteed defined benefit pension to a variable 401K type of defined contribution plan.  The study found such an action would reduce the county’s unfunded long term liabilities by $1.8 billion and save $460 million in short term cash-flow contributions. 

VCTA Co-Chairs of the Initiative for Pension Fairness and Sustainability, David Grau and Dick Thomson, argued that, “For decades, the unions and the politicians have had the only seats at the table– it’s time for the people to weigh in and achieve the kind of reforms that this flawed system simply isn’t capable of delivering.”  In 70 days the group raised 50% more signatures than the 25,000 required to place an initiative on the ballot. 

Despite the county’s number of employees only growing modestly, Ventura County’s annual pension contribution for its 15,000 public employee participants and retirees has jumped by 260% from $45 million in 2004 to $162 million in 2013. According to the Los Angeles Times, four fifths of county retirees who receive pension payments of over $100,000 per year are now getting a larger cash pension benefit than they earned while actually working due to pension spiking

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